March 24th, 2011 at 12:22pm
Toyota, Nissan, Honda and many other companies are facing production disruptions around the world because of the disastrous situation in Japan. Detroit’s automakers are roaring back to life, hiring workers and engineers, and expanding their operations. The UAW is recruiting an activist army from countries around the world. All that and more, plus John shares some of his thoughts on Hyundai’s luxury car, the Equus.
This is Autoline Daily for March 24, 2011. And now, the news.
JAPANESE PRODUCTION DELAYS
The aftereffects of the Japanese earthquake are spreading. Toyota says production will be disrupted in North America; however, it did not say which plants will be affected, for how long, or when. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn says about 40 suppliers in Japan are still facing production shortages and called the situation “serious” and “difficult to evaluate.” He says it will take until mid-April before two plants are able to resume major production. Some Japanese suppliers are considering moving production to China if things don’t improve. Honda is extending production shutdowns at two plants in Japan until early April. The company also says it will take several months for its R&D center in Japan to get back on line and will move those operations elsewhere in the meantime.
Here’s all the proof you need to see that Detroit’s automakers are recovering quickly. GM will bring back 2,000 laid-off workers by September. These were the last workers on layoff, which means when GM hires new workers it can bring them in at a lower wage. And Chrysler says it’s running out of space at its headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan. The giant facility is designed to hold about 11,000 employees and right now the company has close to 10,800 in the building. Chrysler wants to move more service operations out of its headquarters and is trying to keep vital functions within. And Bloomberg reports that the Detroit Three are hiring engineers so fast, they’re having trouble finding them. So they’re looking to Silicon Valley to hire workers. The number of technology job openings has doubled in Detroit since last year making it the fastest growing region in the country.
UAW RAISING ACTIVIST ARMY
And speaking of Detroit and jobs, the UAW is raising an army of activists to organize foreign transplants. According to The Detroit News, the union has created something called the “Global Organizing Institute” to help recruit and train protesters. Here’s where things get interesting. The UAW is signing up activists in countries like China, Japan, Brazil and India. The idea is to have them wave banners, protest at dealerships and pass out leaflets – generally make a ruckus to put pressure on companies to agree to the union’s terms. The global scope of this strategy is truly unprecedented for the UAW. It’s also forming alliances with other labor organizations, like IG Metall in Germany as well as the Japan Auto Workers union. This strategy could work. Companies have never faced world-wide pressure from unions before. As for the UAW’s first foreign target, nobody’s talking so your guess is as good as mine.
ZF AND SAAB TEAM UP
It’s not unusual for suppliers to build truck frames for automakers, but it’s very strange for them to provide complete chassis assemblies. Autoblog reports this is exactly what’s happening between Saab and ZF. The German transmission maker is building a plant in Trolhättan, Sweden near the automaker’s home factory to put together front subframes and complete rear-suspension assemblies. The parts are thought to be for the next-generation 93.
BURGESS IS BACK, BABY!
And now a follow-up on last week’s automotive ethics story that occurred here in Detroit but reverberated across the country. Scott Burgess, the car critic who resigned from The Detroit News when the newspaper edited out some of his critiques of the Chrysler 200 after an advertiser complained, is going back to the News. Talking with Autoline Daily last night, Burgess said that he and The News resolved their differences and that he would return as the paper’s auto critic next week. However, in an ironic twist, Mr. Burgess doesn’t technically restart at The News until Monday afternoon because that morning he speaks to a college journalism class on the topic of ethics. By the way, Scott will be here hosting Autoline Daily when I’m out-of-town next month so it’ll be interesting to see if he comes equipped with a commentary.
Coming up next, some of my thoughts on the new Hyundai Equus.
2011 HYUNDAI EQUUS
But you know something, it may be too late. Until just a couple of years ago the company wasn’t really on anyone’s radar. But today it has SERIOUS momentum in North America. Its products like the Genesis, Elantra and Sonata are all super-solid offerings, and they’re the vehicles that paved the way for Hyundai to bring the Equus the U.S. Still, this car is a good example of what the company’s capable of.
Slide behind the wheel and you’re greeted by soft leather on the seats and dashboard, plus it offers nearly every luxury amenity you can think of. Things like massaging seats, adjustable suspension, iPod connectivity and more. You name it and the Equus probably has it.
If the front seats are nice the rear ones are thrones. They’re more adjustable than a living-room recliner PLUS the legroom puts private jets to shame. And that’s really what this car is all about. It’s designed for wealthy buyers to get chauffeured around in. That’s not to say it’s an un-enjoyable drive, because it’s not. It’s a very competent luxury car . . . yes, I just called a Hyundai a luxury car. The Equus is big, it’s heavy and it’s SUPER refined. Going down the road it’s as quiet as anything in its class, and the body feels like it was carved from a solid chunk of steel.
A 4.6-liter V-8 is tasked with moving all that mass. It churns out a very respectable 385 horsepower on premium fuel with 333 pound-feet of torque. A silky-smooth ZF six-speed automatic transmission sends that oomph to the rear wheels.
Getting the Equus to America likely took a huge push. I suspect the Koreans were desperate to prove to they could compete the best in the world, and therein lies the problem. They rushed it. As I’ve mentioned before, the exterior design is the car’s biggest letdown. It doesn’t do it justice. You pull up to the country club driving this thing nobody’s going to notice. Most people will probably think it’s an old Mercedes or Lexus.
I’d bet Hyundai America told Korea to wait until the next-generation Equus was ready before bringing it to the U.S., but they were too antsy. I’m anxious to see what the upcoming version is like.
Don’t forget to tune in to Autoline After Hours tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Our guest will be Ken Lingenfelter. Journalist Jim McCraw will also be stopping by. Join me and the Autoextremist, Peter De Lorenzo for the best insider news in the business.
And that’s today’s report on the top news in the global auto industry. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.